Two Months in Asia: Shanghai is the Sci-Fi utopia I’ve always wanted pt. 2

Saturday 24th May

The plan for our last day in Shanghai was to see some of the very old bits and all the very very new bits of town. First we headed to the Old Shangai Street area of town, which is basically a bit where all the buildings are made to look really old (but actually look rather too new to be entirely convincing). It’s the oldest street in Shanghai and contains lots of crazy street markets, a genuinely old temple, some parks and a large walled garden.

We visited one of the parks first whilst getting slightly lost looking for something else. Very leafy with lots of streams and kids fishing for what appeared to be goldfish. There were a few weird old folks wandering about which all had some interesting reactions to us. Most of them just sort of gaped but one guy yelled “Helloooooo” at us, clearly quite drunk as he had a half empty bottle of some clear spirit in one hand. Looked like he was having a pretty great Saturday morning.

We wandered about here for a bit then made our way through to the Yu Temple at the centre of the old district. This was a pretty spooky place where we didn’t really understand anything that was going on. The main part consisted of a rectangular courtyard containing a few fire pits and a large ornate shrine in the centre. Visitors were lighting large bundles of incense in the pits, saying some kind of prayer before the shrine, then depositing the incense in a recess in the shrine.

Behind a larger statue room we found a corridor leading to the back of the temple. Branching off this corridor was then entrance to a tea house. Having yet to have visited one of these establishments we thought it was about time we had a go. Very unsure of the protocol here, we wandered in and were seated. Mike sat in the seat obviously meant for our waitress by accident (none of us had any idea what was going on). The basic procedure seems to be as follows:

1. Order tea
2. Waitress brings tea leaves, cups etc and sits at the table with you
3. She sterilises the tea cups and teapot with boiling water and throws in into an ornate “junk tea” receptacle.
4. She pours hot water into a small china pot filled with tea leaves, swirls it around for a few seconds and pours the liquid into the tea pot/jug
5. Our tea is poured into three tiny cups for us to drink
6. The waitress leaves us to drink the tea
7. When our cups are empty, she returned and repeated steps 4-6.

It was quite pleasant but way too expensive. Definitely an experience I’d recommend but not in the most touristy part of Shanghai!

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The Yu Gardens were next on our list for the day so we made our way out of the temple. On the way we were accosted by a group of American high school kids who were part of some sort of competition. To be eligible for the prize (an iPod nano) they had to complete a number of tasks on a check list, one of which was to get some strangers to pretend they were in the middle of an earthquake and video it. We obliged, not entirely sure what we were supposed to be doing. What we decided on in the end was to act like we were just talking normally for  a bit and then jump around, fall on the floor and writhe about with lots of yelling. I think it worked pretty well and they seemed happy with our performance. Sadly we didn’t get anyone to record it for us so you’ll have to take my word for it.

We wandered a little further through the busy market streets and found the Yu Gardens. These gardens consisted of a series of medieval-style buildings linked by stone walkways and bridges which straddled streams and lakes. At certain points we discovered some hidden passages carved through rock that lead to different parts of the gardens. Charles immediately began quoting Indiana Jones films. Not much else to say about the gardens, other than we had our photo taken with some Chinese tourists again.

In the afternoon we headed down to the Bund area again. To get to the other side of the river we took the Sightseeing Tunnel. For some reason, the city planners of Shanghai decided to build a tram tunnel under the river and fill it with weird stuff that doesn’t really make any sense. We got on board with a group of Chinese girls who insisted on yelling to each other the entire time. This has been a fairly common and annoying occurance in China, usually with groups of older women who are probably hard of hearing. These women had no such excuse and continued to yell as if trying to converse in a nightclub.

The tram ride itself was pretty interesting. Lots of bright lights and loud noises (other than the shouty women) and weird music that reminded me of the tunnel scene in Charlie and the Chocolate factory. I assume the journey was supposed to tell some kind of story but have no idea what it was meant to be about. Lava. I think there was lava. All I know is that the last bit had creepy inflatable puppets which looked like some props that’d been rejected from a Tim Burton film for being a bit too wacky.

At the other side we alighted in Pudong, the corporate centre of Shanghai. We wandered about a bit taking pictures of the Bund from the new side of town, eventually making our way to a park in the centre. This park was eerily perfect, clearly man made and meticulously maintained. Surrounding the park were all of Shanghai’s tallest sky scrapers which induced what I can only describe as reverse vertigo (revertigo?). Their tallest building, still in construction, was so tall that the top couldn’t actually be seen through the cloud. We made our way towards the building next door: the Shanghai Finance Centre.

The interior of this building is like something out of a Sci-fi film. Soft yellow lighting and clean edges on every surface. I wandered through here feeling like I’d stepped into the future for a minute as we followed signs through to the touristy bit. At the back of building was a smaller, darkly coloured building with some pretty massive security guards with dogs. Entering this building, I noticed the colour scheme was almost the polar opposite to the lobby: Black walls with similar soft purple lighting that gave the place the feel of a supervillains lair.

After purchasing our tickets there were a few introductory exhibits about the development of Shanghai and the building we were in specifically. Most memorably for me, there was an excellent time-lapse video of the development of New York, Shanghai and Tokyo since 1932. The point of it seemed to be that over the last century both New York and Tokyo have slowly grown bit by bit to form the metropolitan cities they are today, whereas Shanghai had no skyscrapers at all until the 1980’s. Time-lapse photography show’s Shanghai’s development as an explosion erupting out of the earth which was pretty impressive.

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Next we were directed to the high speed elevator to take us to the 94th floor. The doors opened to a super bright bleached white elevator with LCD screens on the walls and ceiling. I have no idea how fast this thing was but we got from the ground floor to 450 metres up in less than a minute. Undulating circular patterns were shown on screens, flashing different colours as we accelerated. It felt a bit like the glass elevator from Willy Wonka and at full speed I half expected to shoot out of the roof!

At the top the doors opened to a bright multi-coloured room with vibrantly lit floor tiles. Eventually we found out way to the viewing platform whilst getting lost in a series of confusingly labeled rooms. The 94th floor is entirely dedicated to the viewing platform, complete with a restaurant and bar positioned to provide a view out of the windows. This would’ve been great had the day not been totally overcast. This issue is that the building is so tall that the viewing platform was literally inside the clouds, a problem we hadn’t foreseen. Despite this fairly major annoyance we sat and had a drink in the bar. When dusk fell we were rewarded with a few spectacular glimpses of the city below.

Making our way back down again, we ended up getting a bit lost near some cafés at the bottom of the building. Whilst going down an escalator we spied what appeared to be an inflatable ball pool that’d been covered over for the night (must’ve been about 8pm by this point). We got a bit lost wandering around this floor for a bit during which time a group of about thirty primary school kids came bombing down the escalator. Clearly assuming this was some kind of surprise for them, they jumped into ball pool and began having what looked like the time of there lives. One of the most hilarious sights I’ve seen in China was the irate floor manager from the building desperately trying to get the kids to get out of the pool whilst balls were thrown about the place. He was just so utterly outnumbered. We watched the chaos for a bit while parents slowly managed to get their kids under control. Great fun.

A panorama of Pudong at night. Turns out Sci-fi is real.

For dinner we visited an area of town known as the French Concession. This part of town was really cool. It had all the same stuff as the rest of Shanghai but all the streets were very European with lots of street cafés and restaurants. We enjoyed an alarmingly pricey meal (still cheaper than nandos but pretty expensive for China) and headed back to the hostel for a few final drinks.

Shanghai was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been and I’d love to go back again some day!

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